Ice Ice Baby
There is just one month left until the Twin Cities Marathon. I’m excited as I enter the final stretch of my training. My latest long run was 18 miles last Saturday, and I will run the Get Ready To Rock 20-mile race in White Bear Lake this Saturday. One runner’s ritual that has kept me going and has contributed significantly to my speedy post-run recoveries is taking ice baths after each long run.
Let me explain. Preparing for a marathon requires, among other things, running numerous short runs (6-8 miles) and several long runs (10-20 miles) over a course of three to four months. Long runs are critical for marathon runners because they enable the body to adapt to running greater distances safely and efficiently. One bummer is that long runs also increase a runner's risk of injury, which can result in a necessary (but depressing) break from training. One way that I learned to mitigate the probability of sustaining a running injury is to practice cold-water immersion, known to many runners as the dreaded ice bath. Cue the haunted house screams.
According to several experts, cryotherapy ("cold therapy") constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once you get out of the ice bath and the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. Ice baths also suppress inflammation and help to flush harmful debris out of your muscles.
The long and short of it is, ice baths work for me. I don’t feel as sore as I used to before I discovered ice baths, which makes me better prepared to execute my weekly training runs without issues. What I do is quite simple --on my way home from my long run I stop by Byerly’s and purchase two 18-pound bags of crushed ice. Once I’m at home I get into the bathtub, run enough cold water to cover my legs, then I add the two bags of ice. Truthfully, for the first few minutes the ice bath is extremely painful and I want to cry. After the first five minutes my legs are so numb that I don’t feel anything. I sit there for twenty minutes surfing the Internet to pass time. The ice baths are brutal, but anything that speeds my recovery is worth the pain. The best feeling is getting out and taking a warm shower. I then stretch and relax in my bed to warm up. In about 30 minutes I’m good to go!
Non-runners, and some runners, think I’m crazy for taking ice baths. Whenever the topic comes up I get a lot of questions and some interesting looks as I describe the ritual and the benefits. All I can really say is don’t knock it until you try it! As I continue on the long road to 26.2 this is one ritual that will remain a constant.